June can be tough for the outdoorsy types. The weather is begging for a bike ride, but the biting bug situation is keeping you inside, where your skin is not a source of nourishment for the little guys. Lucky for you, there’s a perfect spot to celebrate Canada 150 and take in our country’s best asset: its natural beauty. Even the city folks (me included) need to spend some time communing with nature once in a while (Canada is still mostly nature after all), and we’ve found just the place to do it. The Parks of the St. Lawrence in Ontario stretch from Kingston to Gananoque and the 1000 Islands, up to Mallorytown and Morrisburg, by the Long Sault, before ending in Cornwall. Along those 200 kilometers you’ll find campsites, bike paths, ziplines, historical villages and so much more. Here are our recommendations for where to stay and what to do in the Parks of the St. Lawrence.
Where to Stay
The name of the game in the Parks of the St. Lawrence is camping. There are six main campgrounds throughout the region that cater to all different levels of “roughing it”. I was a Girl Guide for 10 years, so I am happy to pitch a tent in the great outdoors, but for those who prefer a more secure shelter, several of the camp sites have fully furnished camper cabins. First time campers should check out the handy “New to Camping” section of the St. Lawrence Parks website, or opt for instant camping to arrive to an already-set up tent (though this option will not earn you a Girl Guide badge). Whatever campsite you choose, you’ll receive two free passes at check in for Upper Canada Village and Fort Henry. Score!
If you want to indulge your inner kid, stay at the Robin’s Roost Treehouse in the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary. If you’re visualizing your dad in the backyard with some 2x4s and a dream, think again. This treehouse sleeps six comfortably, and has an outdoor shower, BBQ, and private beach compete with canoe. Even the birds will be jealous!
What’s your family’s favourite outdoor activity? I guarantee you can do it in the St. Lawrence Parks. Fishing? Check. Birdwatching? Check. Hiking? Check. Canoeing? Check. Biking? You get the idea. The 30 kilometers of Ontario’s Waterfront Trail between Upper Canada Village and Cornwall takes you through several waterside parks, an open air museum, and the above (and below)-mentioned bird sanctuary. The multi-use trail is mostly removed from cars (except near Cornwall) and flat too, making it a great cycling destination. Similarly, the freshly paved 1000 Island Parkway bike path is removed from the road so young ones can cycle in safety. You can also follow the Waterfront Trail along the Long Sault Parkway, a series of 11 connected islands, with an endless scenic views, beaches, andsmall villages to stop in along the way.
Birdwatchers will geek out over the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary which over 200 species of birds flock to (ha!). The sanctuary is also bike friendly and full of self-guided hiking trails along the boardwalks. There is some great paddling in and around the Sanctuary and along the Long Sault Parkway for the canoe, kayak and SUP enthusiasts. On a sunny day you might even catch a glimpse of the roads of the Lost Villages (more on them shortly.)
Step Back in Time
Discover what it was like to live and work in the 1860’s at Upper Canada Village, a fully operational 19th century village with authentic homes, mills, and trade workshops. The historical buildings were transported to Upper Canada Village from the nearby Lost Villages, ten communities which were permanently flooded and submerged during the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958. Today, visitors can learn about traditional farming techniques, dress making, and the Battle of Crysler’s Farm from interpreters in historical costumes. There’s so much to see and to that you could easily spend the whole day at the village, or see the highlights in as little as three hours.
Skywood Eco Adventure
Get your adrenaline flowing and zipline through the trees at Skywood Eco Adventure – Ontario’s newest and largest aerial adventure park. There are three different adventure courses through the forest canopy so people of all ages can cross bridges, swing like Tarzan and zipline from one tree top to the next 10 to 30 feet above the ground. There’s no need for little ones to feel left out; they can play in the Treewalk Village, a network of connected treehouses only a few feet off the ground.
Day Tripping to Kingston
Round out your visit with a day trip to Kingston and a tour of Fort Henry or Kingston Penitentiary. Use those two free passes you got during camp check-in to check out Fort Henry, an authentic 19th century British fortress. Tour the fort, take in the Fort Henry Guard garrison parade (complete with cannon fire), and learn from historical reenactors at the Discovery Centre. Make sure to say hi to David the goat while you’re there!
Or step behind the bars of Kingston Penitentiary, Canada’s oldest and most notorious prison with Kingston Pen Tours. Closed as a prison in 2013, it’s was reopened for tours in 2016. The 90 minute tours are offered in English and French are extremely popular (premium tours have already sold out for the year) so book now!
The Long Sault Parkway
*All images are from the St. Lawrence Parks Commission.